Have you ever watched somebody do things to sabotage their happiness and relationships deliberately? It’s befuddling. They get a job they’ve always wanted or start a new relationship with a good person and then start behaving in ways that put all of it at risk.
Have you been that person?
For many people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), self-destructive behaviors and self-sabotaging habits are a fact of life as they struggle with their self-image and feelings of worthlessness.
Self-sabotage is intentionally hurting yourself, jeopardizing relationships, or putting yourself in harm’s way. People with BPD self-sabotage to feel relief, gain control over possible rejection, or manipulate others to validate them.
But is self-sabotaging behavior a symptom of BPD that can be prevented or treated? Is there hope for those who self-sabotage?
- What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
- Characteristics of BPD
- BPD And Self Sabotage
- Why Do People With BPD Self-Sabotage?
- Is Self-Sabotaging a Symptom of BPD?
- Why Do People With BPD Self-Sabotage Relationships That Are Going Well?
- BPD And Medical Self-Sabotage
- 10 Ways People With BPD Self-Sabotage
- Example #1: Self-Harming
- Example #2: Preventing Wounds From Healing
- Example #3: Binge Eating
- Example #4: Spending Money Impulsively
- Example #5: Unsafe Sex
- Example #6: Misuse or Abuse of Substances
- Example #7: Suicide Ideation & Attempts
- Example #8: Splitting – Picking Fights/Pushing People Away
- Example #9: Getting Fired
- Example #10: Jeopardizing Health
- What To Do If a BPD Person In Your Life Is Self-Sabotaging:
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Experts estimate that around 1.6% of the population in the United States, and 20% of inpatients seeking help for mental health issues, meet the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
It’s classified as a personality disorder that affects the person’s ability to regulate their emotions, resulting in impulsivity, low self-esteem, a pervasive pattern of instability, and difficult interpersonal relationships.
This somewhat oversimplified explanation doesn’t quite highlight how challenging it can be for those living with BPD (or their loved ones). In many cases, it may even be misdiagnosed for a different mental health issue, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or bipolar disorder.
Characteristics of BPD
If you’re wondering what BPD looks like in real life, these are some of the characteristics of the disorder that are paraphrased from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
- Intense difficulties in maintaining relationships due to a pattern of idealization and devaluation;
- An unstable self-image, a negative concept of self;
- Difficulty managing emotions, with rage and anger being easily triggered;
- Impulsivity and risk-taking behavior;
- Mood swings ranging from anxiety and depression to euphoria and dysphoria;
- Paranoia or anxiety related to a fear of perceived abandonment or rejection;
- Self-sabotage, such as self-harm, suicide ideation, and intentionally ruined relationships or jobs.
Many of these characteristics are a byproduct of a negative self-image and a desire to prevent future rejection. When both mark your inner world, self-destructive behavior is common.
BPD And Self Sabotage
Self-sabotage is any behavior that prevent you from doing what you should (or want to) do. They may harm you, obstruct your happiness or impede your health. It can take many forms and be overwhelming to witness in our loved ones.
One of the core issues for people with BPD is a pervading belief in their worthlessness and overwhelming feelings of insignificance, emptiness, or numbness.
As a result, those with BPD sometimes chase the sense of relief they feel when they engage in self-sabotage. Many of the behaviors associated with sabotage result in intense – albeit brief – emotions.
Incidentally, these behaviors can also draw people toward them since self-sabotaging can be very distressing to witness. Loved ones naturally want to step in to protect or improve the circumstances of the person with BPD.
Why Do People With BPD Self-Sabotage?
Self-destructive Borderline Personality Disorder is the ultimate manifestation of low self-worth and fear of rejection.
People with this type of BPD think they are undeserving of happiness. Since they expect to be unhappy anyway, they tend to sabotage anything that could make them feel good.
This includes relationships, careers, and even their health.
Self-Destructive BPD Examples:
Relatedly, one of the characteristics of BPD is intensely fluctuating mood swings. These can range from euphoric episodes to depressive periods that may even peak with suicide ideation.
These extremes prompt people with BPD to engage in impulsive behavior that feeds into the emotion they’re feeling at the moment.
Since people with BPD also experience periods of emptiness or feeling numb, they tend to chase experiences that give them an adrenaline rush. They might engage in ‘over-the-top’ behavior to experience a sense of relief from feeling something.
These episodes of self-sabotage can be challenging for the family and friends of a loved one with BPD.
Self-sabotaging also draws people in, and since these behaviors are often quite dramatic and intense, people react with a sense of urgency or panic at seeing their loved one in harm’s way. This, in turn, feeds into the BPD sufferer’s need to feel validated, which is very much part of the BPD relationship cycle.
This is a form of emotional manipulation to get you to pursue them after the devaluation phase of the relationship has prompted them to push you away.
Their fear of rejection and abandonment is pre-empted by their attempt to cut you off. But they hope that by self-sabotaging – creating a crisis or drama of some sort – it will make you “realize” their worth and rush back to them.
This is common in BPD friendship cycles as well.
Is Self-Sabotaging a Symptom of BPD?
Self-destructive behaviors are symptoms of many mental health issues, predominantly in mood disorders and personality disorders such as major depression, factitious disorder (formerly known as Munchausen syndrome), bipolar disorder – and BPD.
While it’s not exclusive to BPD, self-sabotage is undoubtedly a dominant symptom.
Some consider self-sabotaging behavior as a subtype known as self-destructive BPD. Common traits in this subtype center around the belief that no one cares, a lack of identity, feelings of worthlessness, and depression.
This manifests as suicidal thoughts and behavior, self-injury, substance abuse, and reckless behavior that endangers their life.
Why Do People With BPD Self-Sabotage Relationships That Are Going Well?
Because people with BPD believe they are unworthy of love and will be rejected eventually, they pre-empt that loss by sabotaging relationships that are going well.
People with BPD will often love bomb new partners in the beginning to form a strong, immediate connection. But the fruits of that labor will, inevitably, spook them.
In a bid to keep control of the situation, they may feel less hurt if they are the ones ending it rather than potentially facing rejection. They may even take it to extremes and ghost immediately after love bombing to save face.
They don’t always ghost. Sometimes they will unexpectedly move the relationship into the devaluation phase.
This is a defense mechanism against potential abandonment.
People with BPD suddenly see their partners in a negative light, and they respond with anger and resentment, which leads to them picking fights or neglecting the relationship entirely, thereby sabotaging any hope of long-term happiness.
BPD And Medical Self-Sabotage
Research has confirmed that medical self-sabotage is prevalent among those with BPD. It’s when someone with BPD intentionally subverts their health and well-being.
It can sometimes be confused with malingering, which means falsifying or exaggerating an illness for the benefit of attention, financial gain, or avoiding work.
But in the case of BPD self-sabotage, the aim is psychological. They want to draw others back in, or to garner attention from health care professionals.
Medical self-sabotage can manifest in the following scenarios:
- Intentionally creating symptoms for a condition or injury;
- Intentionally exaggerating existing symptoms to seem more severe than they are;
- Obstructing or sabotaging medical care to either negatively affect their health
In most cases, the severity of the medical condition is either blown out of proportion, purposefully aggravated, or lacking the clinical features conducive to a proper diagnosis.
This is supported by the outcome of various studies that have found that people with BPD are much more likely to make medical situations worse than those who don’t have BPD.
10 Ways People With BPD Self-Sabotage
Self-sabotaging actions can sometimes be mistaken for simply being forgetful, careless, or written off because the person is an “adrenalin junkie,” for example. Some examples of how self-sabotage looks include:
Example #1: Self-Harming
This is, unfortunately, a common occurrence in quiet BPD sufferers. They may engage in self-harming behaviors like cutting, scratching, peeling, burning, or even hitting themselves.
These physical acts intentionally cause pain, bruises, and wounds and bring temporary relief after triggering situations.
Example #2: Preventing Wounds From Healing
It doesn’t matter if they caused the wound or not. Some BPD self-sabotagers may intentionally prevent it from healing, make it worse, or exaggerate the severity of the wound.
This includes not seeking medical attention when necessary and purposefully allowing infection to worsen a wound.
Example #3: Binge Eating
Overeating, eating unhealthy foods, or eating and then purging are all forms of self-sabotage. As much as 54% of people with BPD have some history of eating disorders.
Many believe that since those with BPD feel hopeless and worthless, they simply feed into that thought by not having healthy eating habits.
Example #4: Spending Money Impulsively
Risk-taking behaviors that can be self-destructive include spending recklessly, gambling, and buying unnecessary and unaffordable items.
Part of the BPD relationship cycle includes love bombing, where the BPD person showers their prospective partner with gifts and ostentatious displays of affection with little care for how much it costs or whether they can afford it.
Example #5: Unsafe Sex
Reckless behaviors can also include random or indiscriminate hook-ups. There’s no concern for getting or spreading sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, or emotional side effects. Sometimes, no thought is given to whether they (or the other person) are already in a relationship.
This type of recklessness has caused a lot of trauma for former partners of BPDs.
Example #6: Misuse or Abuse of Substances
Another way people with BPD self-sabotage is by abusing alcohol, drugs, or smoking excessively.
Individuals with BPD may turn to alcohol to cope with their intense emotions, such as anxiety, depression, anger, or loneliness. They may use alcohol to numb their emotions, avoid feeling overwhelmed or to self-medicate, and may become dependent on it.
Incidentally, drinking excessively can make people more impulsive – something BPD sufferers already struggle with.
Example #7: Suicide Ideation & Attempts
Thoughts about suicide or attempts at death by suicide are common among those with BPD. For some, the attempts are about manipulating loved ones to flock to their side, but for others; it’s a genuine attempt to end what they feel is a hopeless, worthless existence.
Example #8: Splitting – Picking Fights/Pushing People Away
Part of the BPD relationship cycle is ‘splitting,’ where the person with BPD is unable to see the reality of who their partner (or friend or family member) is. They struggle with black-and-white thinking, which means they see people only as absolutely perfect or awful.
This, of course, ignores the reality of people. This is why people with BPD struggle to maintain healthy relationships.
Picking fights and pushing people away is a result of splitting.
Example #9: Getting Fired
The cycle of BPD relationships can play out in professional settings as well.
It’s not uncommon for BPD sufferers to intentionally jeopardize their jobs. They do this by being tardy, not completing their assigned tasks, or purposefully breaking the rules.
Just like they pre-empt a break-up, they can pre-empt getting fired.
Example #10: Jeopardizing Health
As we already mentioned, medical self-sabotage is another feature of BPD.
They may do this by not taking prescribed medications, exposing themselves to those who are ill, or intentionally not following the instructions of a health care professional to prolong or confuse them.
Additionally, taking too much or too little medication or the wrong medication entirely is common.
What To Do If a BPD Person In Your Life Is Self-Sabotaging:
It can be overwhelming reading this and wondering whether you can help your loved one, and you may even be wondering if there is anything you can do to prevent self-sabotage.
The good news is that evidence suggests that a resolution of symptoms is possible with effective treatment.
The key is to get a diagnosis and encourage therapy.
Not only will this give you the correct information, but it will also enable you to get support and not feel so isolated. Additionally, behavioral therapies have proven effective in helping self-sabotagers identify triggers and learn more appropriate ways of dealing with these.
Tips for how to deal with a loved one that is self-sabotaging:
Helping a loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be challenging, especially when they engage in self-sabotaging behaviors. Here are some tips for protecting yourself when trying to support a loved one with self-destructive BPD:
Don’t get drawn into the drama.
Take a breath before acting. One of the reasons for self-sabotage is to manipulate emotions, often after a big fallout. Try to remain objective in dealing with the problem; otherwise, the ‘crisis’ is dealt with symptomatically, and the root cause remains.
It’s not your fault.
You aren’t the reason they are harming themselves or causing destruction around them, so don’t blame yourself. Realizing there is a mental health issue that requires professional help is essential – you cannot be the savior.
Don’t make excuses.
Despite our best intentions, making excuses for those who self-sabotage enables them. Either stand up to them firmly and lovingly, refuse to play along with their self-sabotage, or distance yourself for a bit.
Set firm and consistent boundaries.
To promote a healthier relationship, you have to put boundaries in place and maintain them without wavering. If a person with BPD sees your consistency without sacrificing the relationship, they are less likely to try to sabotage it.
Acknowledge and affirm.
Always acknowledge what they feel so that they know you are aware of their emotions, and affirm your commitment to the relationship. This is useful before and after difficult conversations about boundaries or your refusal to enable self-sabotage or to stand around watching them ruin themselves.
The weight of responsibility for ourselves and our loved ones is increased exponentially when someone has BPD.
It can be heartbreaking watching someone intentionally cause harm to themselves or destroy relationships, but understanding why they do this will help. While we have a few ways of helping our loved ones, professional diagnosis and therapeutic intervention are the most important.